Number of Single-Sex Programs on the Rise, GAO Says

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A growing number of school districts are experimenting with single-sex educational programs, despite uncertainty about whether they are legal or appropriate.

That is the conclusion of an 18-page report from the General Accounting Office that outlines the status of programs that separate boys and girls in public schools.

Some researchers believe single-sex programs can bring measurable academic improvement by targeting specific problems that afflict certain groups of students.

Studies suggest, for example, that girls are more likely to speak out and ask questions in all-female math classes. And some districts have created special programs for African-American boys, who are at much greater risk than other students of dropping out.

Critics say that single-sex programs may be effective because of factors unrelated to their gender policy, the report from the congressional watchdog agency notes. Some educators also question the separate allocation of resources and "the reinforcement of stereotypes that certain groups are low achievers and need extra help."

There are also unresolved legal questions about single-sex schools and classrooms in K-12 public schools. (See related story, page 7.)

1976 Case

The GAO report points out that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bars single-sex classrooms in schools receiving federal aid, with a few limited exceptions, such as for sex education. The Department of Education's office for civil rights has advised school districts that single-sex classrooms do not pass muster.

However, the report says, the OCR found public all-girls schools in Philadelphia and Baltimore to be in compliance with Title IX because there were no policies excluding boys, though the schools were traditionally all-female.

In the only U.S. Supreme Court case to deal with single-sex programs at the K-12 level, the court in 1976 split evenly in a challenge to Philadelphia's high schools for girls and boys. Thus, in Vorchheimer v. School District of Philadelphia, the high court upheld an appeals court ruling that the schools did not violate the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Because of the tie vote, however, the ruling did not create a national precedent.

The report says the Supreme Court's forthcoming ruling in a challenge to the Virginia Military Institute, an all-male, state-run college, could hold implications for single-sex programs in K-12 schools. A ruling in U.S. v. Virginia, is expected by next month.

For More Information:

Single copies of "Issues Involving Single-Gender Schools and Programs," GAO/HES-96-122, are free from the U.S. General Accounting Office, P.O. Box. 6015, Gaithersburg, Md. 20884-6015; (202) 512-6000.

Vol. 15, Issue 38

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